Gareth Bale’s final – well hopefully not final – goal for Tottenham was in the last minute of the last game of the season. Sunderland at White Hart Lane, 19 May 2013. He picked the ball up on the right, cut inside like Arjen Robben and bent the ball into the top left corner from 25 yards past Simon Mignolet. It feels like Bale scored that goal a hundred times that season.

As soon as the ball hit the net, Emmanuel Adebayor ran to ask the crowd whether it was enough to get Spurs into the Champions League. It wasn’t. Beaten into fifth place by virtue of Arsenal’s win at Newcastle. André Villas-Boas insisted he could keep Bale at the club. He couldn’t.

The following day, 800 miles away in Madrid, José Mourinho left the Bernabéu after a season in which he fell out with Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo. He described it as “the worst of his career”. He has more seasons to choose from now.

A lot changes in seven years. AVB is in Marseille, Mignolet in Bruges, and Sunderland are in League One. White Hart Lane isn’t there. Hugo Lloris is the only member of that starting XI still on the books.

Harry Kane had squad number 37 back then and spent most of the season on loan at Leicester and Norwich. He did share the pitch with Bale from the 86th minute (90+3) of Spurs’ opening-day defeat at St James’ Park. They were also together between the 63rd and 72nd minute of a Europa League defeat against Paok a year earlier. About a quarter of an hour together already – the kernels of an understanding perhaps?

A lot has changed for Gareth Bale in seven years. He appears to have doubled in size – like a teenager who went to prison and spent the whole of his stretch doing chin-ups. No longer the wispy, fresh-faced gazelle who glided past Maicon at San Siro. Now his quads protrude like unmined diamonds and his hair is part Shawn Michaels, part Rapunzel – a lockdown haircut since he signed at the Bernabéu.

Which brings us to the excitement of Bale returning. Fans following the private jet on Friday on flight tracker. Twitter accounts racing to confirm it before it’s confirmed. The photos holding the shirt. The photos signing the contract. The keepy-ups. The discussions of a “PR masterstroke” by Daniel Levy.

What a shame there isn’t a season two of All or Nothing. I was looking forward to Levy sitting awkwardly with Mourinho in the canteen and pointing out that Bale “runs. A lot!” If he still runs a lot that is. We don’t know exactly what type of player he is now because he hasn’t played enough in the past two years.

But Spurs fans don’t need to think about the reality of signing a 31-year-old who has been frozen out of Real Madrid for two seasons. They need the homecoming nostalgia of someone they saw turn from a boy into a joy of a footballer.

The volley at Stoke, the last minute at Upton Park, the goals against Arsenal, the free-kicks, the low, hard strikes into the bottom corner. And after the stupefying pain of Everton and the plod in Plodiv on Thursday, Spurs fans will cling to anything.

And here is the problem. Does the arrival of Bale tip the excitement scales back into the positive when they are weighed down so heavily by the manager?

If you created the ultimate Spurs player – the inside of Hoddle’s right foot, the outside of Modric’s, the left of Waddle, the brain of Sheringham, the dribbling of Gascoigne, the pace of 2012 Bale – would José still get Toby Alderweireld to knock it long to Lucas Moura?

When Spurs sacked Mauricio Pochettino and replaced him with Mourinho, the following day I spilled out 800 words on a page very similar to this. It had all happened so fast. I had laughed about the football José had brought to Manchester United. I expected disaster.

Three games later, the fickle hypocritical part that makes up 90% of my – and every other football fan’s – brain had turned. Three wins in a row. Perhaps I was wrong. Then it was the injuries. Perhaps I was wrong. On Sunday it was watching Everton outplay us in every area of the pitch. A lot changes in seven years, but it appears Mourinho hasn’t. Perhaps I am wrong.

And being a fan is about hope. I cannot wait to see Bale in a Spurs shirt again.

As Sid Lowe pointed out, the Spanish newspaper AS gave a hilariously brutal assessment of the Welshman’s contribution to Real Madrid: “A small collection of key goals” it said, failing to mention quite how key – domestic and European cup finals and countless strikes in La Liga.

I was in Kyiv when he scored that overhead kick. There was an audible silence before the Madrid fans cheered. It was extraordinary. Bale won’t need a collection of key goals to make him even more of a legend than he already is in north London. If it brings Spurs a trophy one will be enough. I hope. I hope.

source: theguardian.com

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